EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — All Michigan needed was an exclamation point — a final flourish that would add a little extra satisfaction to this big victory on a rival’s home field.
When Michigan State fumbled while attempting a puzzling 2-point conversion with 1 second left, Jabrill Peppers scooped up the loose ball and ran all the way to the end zone. Then the celebration really began.
“It was just icing on the cake,” Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said. “I think we all had figured that we won at that point. Going for two, I’m sure there was a reason for that, but for Jabrill to pick that up and take it to the house, that felt good.”
The defensive conversion by Peppers capped a 32-23 victory for the second-ranked Wolverines, who beat the skidding Spartans for only the second time in the last nine meetings. Peppers also scored a touchdown in the first quarter, and when the game’s last second finally ticked off, he did a triumphant backflip for good measure.
Amara Darboh caught eight passes for a career-high 165 yards, and De’Veon Smith ran for two touchdowns for Michigan.
The Wolverines (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) scored every time they had the ball in the first half, sending the Spartans (2-6, 0-5) to their sixth straight loss. Michigan avenged last year’s loss to Michigan State, in which the Spartans scored the winning touchdown on the final play when the Wolverinesbotched a punt .
Michigan State went on to a Big Ten title and a national semifinal appearance after that dramatic victory, but this season it’s Michigan that’s in the national title hunt. The Wolverines were heavy favorites to win in East Lansing, and they trailed only briefly in the first quarter.
Michigan led 30-10 in the fourth before the Spartans scored a pair of touchdowns, the last of which came with only 1 second on the clock. Down 30-23, Michigan State attempted a 2-point conversion and fumbled, and Peppers went the other way for two points.
“I’m going to keep scratching for every inch and every point that we can possibly get, so when there’s one second on the clock, we’re going to go for two,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “At that point in time, we’re probably losing the game. I don’t see any foreseeable way that we can scoop up a ball, because it’s not legal to scoop up a ball and score on an onside kick. So we went for two. It’s unfortunate it ended in a big celebration for them.”
Speight threw for 244 yards for Michigan. Michigan State, meanwhile, did not complete a pass in the second or third quarter.
“We were tested in all phases,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We were sure that was going to be the case and our guys made the plays throughout the ballgame. From start to finish, our guys made a few more plays. It was a good tight game and good for our guys to be tested that way.”
Michigan: This was expected to be a mismatch, and it wasn’t all that close until the very end. After losing last year on the wacky punt mishap, the Wolverines didn’t have to punt until the fourth quarter Saturday. Michigan didn’t match its defensive dominance from some earlier games, but the Wolverines did make a nice goal line stand in the third quarter that proved crucial.
“They bent more than usual, but they never break,” Speight said.
Michigan State: LJ Scott rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown against the nation’s top-ranked defense, but Michigan State’s deficiencies in other areas were eventually exposed. The Spartans’ defense this year is nothing like the smothering units they’ve had in recent seasons, and the passing game was nonexistent until backup quarterback Brian Lewerke came on late.
TAKING IT HOME
Michigan won the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the first time since 2012, although CB Jourdan Lewis said he was disappointed the Wolverines didn’t have a chance to parade it around the field. Lewis said the trophy was in the locker room afterward.
“Me and Delano (Hill) wanted to go on the field so we could run it around and get a little victory lap,” Lewis said. “But hey, we got it back. I’m excited to get him back home.”
In 42 of the previous 46 games in this series, the team with more yards rushing won. That wasn’t the case Saturday, when Michigan State outrushed Michigan 217-192.
Michigan: The Wolverines can only move up one more spot in the Top 25, and that isn’t likely to happen without a loss by No. 1 Alabama.
Michigan: The Wolverines host Maryland next Saturday.
Michigan State: This is the longest losing streak for the Spartans since they started 0-7 in 1982 — not including forfeits from 1994. The Spartans play at Illinois on Saturday.